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Camping Vacations in California
Making Camping Reservations at California State BeachesMany campgrounds fill-up seven months ahead so plan in advance. First-come first-served sites are available at some parks. Call the park for information on first-come first-served availability prior to arrival.
California State Beaches : California Dept. of Parks and Recreation
Popular Southern California Camping Beaches
San Diego CountyThe southern most tip of California offers mild climate year round, and spectacular natural scenic and wildlife viewing.
South CarlsbadThis San Diego beach features swimming, surfing, skin diving, fishing and picnicking. The large bluff-top campground is very popular, especially in summer. Stairs lead to the beach.
Silver Strand State BeachSilver Strand State Beach features extensive beaches on both the Pacific Ocean and San Diego Bay. Combined with the areas mild climate, the beaches make Silver Strand one of the areas finest recreation destinations. Camping, swimming, surfing, boating, water-skiing, volleyball, and picnicking are popular activities. Anglers can fish for perch, corbina, grunion and yellow-fin croaker. Park facilities include four large parking lots, which can accommodate up to 1,000 vehicles.
Orange CountyJust north of San Diego, Orange County continues the varied terrain of the far southern tip of California. Close to Los Angeles, but so far from urban reality!
San OnofreSan Onofre State Beach features 3.5-miles of sandy beaches with six access trails cut into the bluff above. The campground is along Old Highway 101 adjacent to the sandstone bluffs. The beach is popular with swimmers and surfers. The park includes a marshy area where San Mateo Creek meets the shoreline and Trestles Beach, a well-known California surfing site. Whales, dolphins and sea lions can be seen offshore from time to time. The parks coastal terrace is chaparral-covered. San Onofre includes San Onofre Surf Beach - a day use facility, San Mateo campground and day use facility, and a Nature Trail that starts at San Mateo Canyon and leads to San Mateo State Preserve/ Trestles Beach.
San ClementeSan Clemente State Beach is popular with surfers on the north end of the one-mile beach. Other popular activities are skin diving and hiking along the trails on the bluffs. The beach has a landscaped bluff top with picnic areas. Trails lead down to the beach, which is also popular for body surfing, swimming, and skin diving.
DohenyDoheny State Beach is two parks in one - with camping in the southern area (with some campsites only steps away from the beach) and day use in the northern area, where there is a five-acre lawn with picnic facilities and volleyball courts. Surfing is popular, but is restricted to the north end of the beach. Surf fishing is also popular.
Bolsa ChicaBolsa Chica State Beach is a popular place for surf fishing for perch, corbina, croaker, cabezon and sand shark. Also popular is in the summer is bare-handed fishing for California grunion, a species that only spawns on sandy southern California beaches. The beach extends three miles from Seal Beach to Huntington Beach City Pier. A bikeway connects it with Huntington State Beach, seven miles south. Wildlife and bird watching are popular. Across the road from the beach is the 1,000-acre Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, operated by the California Department of Fish and Game.
Los Angeles CountyIt's amazing how much nature you find in this, one of the largest cities in the world. With miles and miles of beach that is connected to mountains, desert and wetlands, the LA area beaches are a popular getaway from the glitz and glamour and commerce. Make these beaches an alternative to your LA travels...you'll be amazed at the wonder at the tip of your toes!
Leo Carrillo State ParkLeo Carrillo State Park has 1.5 miles of beach for swimming, surfing, windsurfing, surf fishing and beachcombing. The beach also has tide pools, coastal caves and reefs for exploring. Giant sycamores shade the main campgrounds. The park also features back-country hiking. Nature walks and campfire programs are offered and a small visitor center has interpretive displays. During the summer, children's programs are available.
Malibu Creek State ParkJust 25 miles from downtown Los Angeles, the park has over 4,000 acres, featuring hiking, fishing, bird watching and horseback riding opportunities. There are 15 miles of streamside trail through oak and sycamore woodlands an chaparral-covered slopes.Twenty-five-mile Malibu Creek in the park is the principal water-course of the Santa Monica Mountains - from Boney Mountain to Malibu Lagoon.
Malibu Creek State Park was the center of Chumash Native American life for centuries and was once used to film numerous movies and TV shows, such as Planet of the Apes and M*A*S*H.
Point Dume State Beach -- Not a camping beach...but so amazing!Point Dume State Preserve features headlands, cliffs, rocky coves and vast beach access. The beach is presently operated by Los Angeles County, which also operates Zuma County Beach. These facilities are noted for swimming, surfing, scuba diving and fishing. Point Dume is a perfect place to watch for California gray whales during the December - March migration period.
At the end of Westward Beach Road, access to Point Dume State Preserve begins from the cul-de-sac. A gradual ascending trail leads to an ancient coastal bluff sand dune. Visitors are asked to stay on the trail in an effort to help reserve this unique sand accumulation. An incredible view encompassing the entire Santa Monica Bay, north Malibu Coast, inland Santa Monica Mountains and distant Catalina Island may be enjoyed from the top on a clear day. A boardwalk, just below the summit, leads to a viewing platform - it tends to be more sheltered on a windy day. A stairway from the east side of the bluff-top preserve allows access to a more isolated beach and fine tide- pooling opportunities.
Topanga State ParkLocated in the cliffs and canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains, Topanga State Park features 36 miles of trails through open grassland, live oaks and spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. The park is located entirely within the Los Angeles city limits and is considered the world's largest wildland within the boundaries of a major city. More than 11,000 acres of land are preserved in the park. Excellent recreational opportunities for hikers as well as mountain bikers (restricted to fire roads) and equestrians.
The park is bound on the south by Pacific Palisades and Brentwood, on the west by Topanga Canyon, and on the east by Rustic Canyon. Numerous geologic formations can be found in the park, including earthquake faults, marine fossils, volcanic intrusions, and a wide variety of sedimentary formations.
Ventura CountyJust north of Los Angeles County, Ventura County offers seclusion and orange grove agricultural beauty just beyond their spectacular beaches that are backed up by spectacular mountains with bountiful birds, butterflies and wildlife of all kinds.
Point MaguPoint Mugu State Park, located in the Santa Monica Mountains, features five miles of ocean shoreline, with rocky bluffs, sandy beaches, sand dunes, rugged hills and uplands, two major river canyons and wide grassy valleys dotted with sycamores, oaks and a few native walnuts. There are more than 70 miles of hiking trails. The beach also features swimming, body surfing and surf fishing. The 15,000-acre park includes the jagged pinnacles of the Boney Mountains State Wilderness Area.
McGrathMcGrath State Beach is one of the best bird-watching areas in California, with the lush riverbanks of the Santa Clara River and sand dunes along the shore. A nature trail leads to the Santa Clara Estuary Natural Preserve. Two miles of beach provide surfing and fishing opportunities, however, swimmers are urged to use caution because of strong currents and riptides. The park offers campsites by the beach.
Emma WoodModerate ocean temperature at Emma Wood State Beach makes the area a great place for swimming, surfing and fishing. Catches include perch, bass, cabezon and corbina. A freshwater marsh at the southwest end of the beach attracts raccoons, songbirds and red-tailed hawks. The beach also features the crumbling ruins of a World War II coastal artillery site. There is a grassy area for groups. The beach offers a view of Anacapa Island - and occasional dolphins.
Santa Barbara CountyHills, mountains, beaches...this county is known for elegance, and superb getaway vacations. Romantic, elegant, and usually pretty expensive...but the views and variety are worth it!
CarpenteriaTwelve miles south of Santa Barbara, Carpinteria State Beach offers a mile of beach for swimming, surf fishing, tidepool exploring and camping. The Spanish named the area Carpinteria because the Chumash tribe, which lived in the area, had a large seagoing canoe-building enterprise, or "carpentry shop" there, because of naturally-occurring surface tar which was used to seal the boats.
Seals and sea lions can be seen in the area December through May, as well as an occasional gray whale. Tidepools contain starfish, sea anemones, crabs, snails, octopi and sea urchins.
El CapitanEl Capitán State Beach offers visitors a sandy beach, rocky tidepools, and stands of sycamore and oaks along El Capitán Creek. It's a perfect setting for swimming, fishing, surfing, picnicking and camping. A stairway provides access from the bluffs to the beach area. A bike trail connects the park with Refugio State Beach, 2.5 miles away.
RefugioRefugio State Beach offers excellent coastal fishing as well as trails and picnic sites. Palm trees planted near Refugio Creek give a distinctive look to the beach and camping area. A bike trail along the beach bluff connects the beach with El Capitán State Beach 2.5 miles east.
Central CaliforniaJust a couple of the many beautiful parks in Central California to wet your anticipation! Central California stretched along a magical terrain of mountains, valleys and wine country agriculture.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State ParkThe park has 1006 acres of redwoods, conifers, oaks, sycamores, cottonwoods, maples, alders and willows - plus open meadows. Wildlife includes black-tail deer, gray squirrels, raccoons, skunks, and birds, such as water ouzels and belted kingfishers. Hikers can enjoy the many scenic trails, including a self-guided nature trail. Some campsites are along the Big Sur River.
San Simeon State ParkSan Simeon State Park is one of the oldest units of the California State Park System. The coastal bluffs and promontories of the scenic park offer unobstructed views of the ocean and rocky shore. The park includes the Santa Rosa Creek Natural Preserve, the San Simeon Natural Preserve and the Pa-nu Cultural Preserve were established in 1990. A 3.3 mile trail runs through parts of the San Simeon Natural Preserve and the Washburn Campground. The trail includes scenic overlooks, rest-stop benches and interpretive panels with information on wildlife and habitat. A portion of the trail along the seasonal wetland is wheelchair accessible.
Northern CaliforniaWe're not touching on the camping opportunities in Northern California in this review...but be assured they are breathtaking, as well. With more than 95% of California being wild land...you can imagine the possibilities!
For more articles about California NatureCalifornia Beach Communities
Common Native Plants of Southern California Uplands
Natural Los Angeles Resources
Common Native Wildlife of Southern California
Common Native Birds of Southern California
Attracting California birds with native plants
Los Angeles Urban Forest
There's a Park Near You in Los Angeles
News about the SoCal Environment
Least Terns Preserve on the LA Beach
Visiting California Beach Communities - An Overview
Los Angeles Area Nature Link List